The proposal aims to contribute to improve the proper functioning of the internal market and remove and prevent barriers for the free movement of accessible products and services.
The demand for accessible products and services is high and the number of citizens with disabilities and/or functional limitations will increase significantly with the ageing of the European Union's population. Taking into account demographic ageing, it is expected that in 2020 approximately 120 million persons in the European Union will have multiple and/or minor disabilities. Improving the functioning of the internal market for specific accessible products and services, serves both the needs of these consumers and industry. An environment where products and services are more accessible allows for more inclusion and participation of citizens in society. It supports independent living and autonomous choice. It also contributes to the application of the principle of equal treatment in the access to goods and services by persons with disabilities.5
Differences in legislation, standards and guidelines on accessibility exist and are very likely to increase as Member States develop new accessibility rules. This is a consequence of the entry into force of the UNCRPD for the EU and the majority of the Member States, as well as the general character of its provisions, which are open to different interpretations and practices when they are implemented at national level. An example of divergent rules is the case of Web accessibility, where Member States use different versions of the W3C/WCAG guidelines, another is the Audio Visual Media services where different standards are used for subtitles and audio description. Furthermore changes in EU legislation making accessibility compulsory in general terms without providing a definition like in the case of the Public Procurement Directives will have a similar effect.
The non-harmonised national approaches to accessibility create barriers in the internal market. Suppliers that operate cross-border would face additional production costs to comply with divergent accessibility rules. Competition, competitiveness and economic growth are hampered because enterprises, SMEs in particular, may lack the know-how and capacity to cope with learning and putting in action all the different national requirements and procedures. Consequently, it is important to include SMEs in the scope of this proposal as otherwise their products and services could be considered as second-rate or sub-quality.
National authorities, manufacturers and services providers face uncertainties concerning the accessibility requirements for potential cross-border services, and concerning the applicable policy framework for accessibility.
The described situation demonstrates the need to act and to ensure the free movement of products and services, by defining and using common accessibility requirements for the selected products and services and by using the same requirements for EU legislation that establishes general obligations on accessibility. This will contribute to increase competition among industry. The proposal aims at lowering and preventing barriers to cross-border trade.
Harmonisation of national measures on accessibility is being proposed as a necessary condition to put an end to the legislative divergence.